#35 Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #2 the Crimean War

(Continuing from Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #1)


Many people teach, but not many begins teaching at the age of 17, and even less would have their apartment being paid for!


There is a detailed wikipedia page on the life of Lord Fotzroy Somerset, who was the commander of the British troops in Crimean War (1853-1856). At first glance, I thought the “Lord Raglan’s March” might be a composition to celebrate Lord Somerset’s victory in the Crimean War, but Somerset actually died in June 1855 before the Siege of Sevastopol was concluded in September of the same year. So the Lord Raglan’s March might actually be composed to celebrate Somerset’s promotion to Baron Raglan of Raglan on October 1852. It was just my fantasy that the Lord Raglan’s March was composed for the Crimean War. I wanted the fantasy to be true though, as that would make the Siege of Sevastopol the inspiration of two guitar pieces – the other being “Sebastopol: A descriptive fantaisie for the guitar” by Henry Worrall.

According to Old Time Party, Henry Worrall was born in 1825 (one year later than Madame Pratten), and moved to the States in 1835. He was a guitar performer, teacher, and composer, and he was responsible for filing copyrights to two open tuning songs: his arrangement of Spanish Fandango (in open G), and Sebastopol (in open D). Sebastopol was a march inspired by the Siege of Sevastopol. Both of these tunes were influential in the development of the country blues:

“During the latter 1800s, the Lyon & Healy company in Chicago pioneered the mass production of acoustic guitars. By the turn of the century, their many models were sold under various names in catalogs issued by companies such as Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery Ward. Many of these catalog-bought guitars arrived with a tutorial pamphlet featuring tuning instructions and music for rudimentary instrumentals. Two of the most common of these instructive instrumentals, “Spanish Fandango” and “The Siege of Sebastopol,” predated the Civil War. The music for “Spanish Fandango” required that the guitar’s strings be tuned to an open-G chord (the strings tuned DGDGBD, from low to high), while “The Siege of Sebastopol” was in open D (DADF#AD). “Spanish Fandango” in particular served as a starting point for countless rural players.”

– an excerpt from Talking Guitar, by Jas Obrecht, found on WBUR.

Spanish Fandango and Sebastopol might be easy to play, but they prompted a lot of thoughts. For one, the way they were notated is interesting: they are notated as if the guitar is in standard tuning. If one plays the music as notated, the outcome would not make sense.

Madame Sidney Pratten apparently had quite an output for music tuned to an open E chord. Was the Lord Raglan’s March in open E? She even had a method book for Open E – Instructions For the Guitar tuned in E major (see the picture below, taken from the last page of one of her pieces. Did Madame Sidney Pratten also notate her open-E music as if the guitar is tuned in standard tuning? (More on this on the next post)

The idea of using openings as a pedagogical tool is growing on me: what about a beginning guitar class that only studies songs in open D and open G tuning? Students can get chords with just one or two left hand fingers (no need to worry about chord shapes and transitions), and maybe it would be easier to teach harmonic functions (I, IV, and V share the same shape, so position alone would indicate harmonic functions)? Moreover, open tuning songs lend itself to a lot of discussions related to history, society, and culture: music and life in 19th century, country blues, folk music, rock and roll, etc.

I have always wondered why are opening tunings not more popular. Because it is associated with music of “simple harmonies” (folk, blues)? Because the music is not serious enough, since it only takes one finger sliding up and down the to play different chords? But what’s wrong with things being simple? Moreover, guitar music in opening tunings can actually be quite sophisticated. Or maybe open tuning is too difficult: learning notes on a standard-tuning fretboard is difficult enough, let alone learning notes on a fretboard of non-standard tunings?

(Continue to Reminiscenes of Madame Sidney Pratten #3 )

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